It’s no secret that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is known for appearing in perfect photo op fashion. On Thursday, he was spotted—shirtless, yet again—running near Cherry Beach in Toronto in a baseball cap and black shorts.
To be fair, there is a massive heat wave afflicting Toronto currently, so the shirtlessness seems warranted. But the timing, coming amid one of the worst weeks of his prime ministership, feels off.
This most recent sighting comes after Trudeau met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Thursday. The premier had just announced that Ontario would stop cooperating with Ottawa on resettling asylum seekers, and Trudeau would later suggest to reporters that Ford doesn’t understand the issue.
But Thursday was also the first day that Trudeau gave an almost fulsome response to an 18-year-old groping allegation from a reporter. The allegations, contained in an unsigned editorial in the Creston Valley Advance, were dug up and tweeted by former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella before being picked up by Breitbart, other right-wing media, and eventually, mainstream media—a serious issue for a prime minister who has turfed men for sexual misconduct and loudly proclaims himself a feminist.
While Trudeau has previously said he didn’t recall any “negative interactions” about the event 18 years ago, he admitted Thursday he apologized to the woman.
“I apologized in the moment,” he told reporters. “I certainly feel that if, um, again I don’t want to speak for her. I don’t want to presume how she feels now. I haven’t reached out to her, no one on my team has reached out to her. We don’t think that would be appropriate at all.
“I’m responsible for my side of the interaction, which was certainly I don’t feel was in any way untoward,” he added. “But at the same time, this lesson that we are learning is, and I’ll be blunt about it, often a man experiences an interaction as being benign or not inappropriate, and a woman, particularly in a professional context, can experience it differently, and we have to respect that and reflect on it.”
The CBC has reported that they contacted the woman and she said she did not want to discuss the issue and asked not to be contacted.
Her colleagues at the time have told the CBC and the National Post that they believe the reporter wrote the editorial herself. She was interviewing Trudeau at the Kokanee Summit festival in 2000, which was raising money for avalanche awareness.
Given the response to Trudeau’s latest comments, particularly from conservative commentators, it seems unlikely the controversy will be going away anytime soon.
It appears that the 2019 election is becoming increasingly competitive, and Trudeau’s previous campaign, run on the power of positivity and Insta likes, may not fly this time around.
“Organic” viral appearances, too, became part of Trudeau’s brand early into his prime ministership, but brought PR stunt suspicion once they hit a saturation point.
In the initial years after becoming prime minister, Trudeau was spotted shirtless with near-perfect abs “photobombing” a wedding, at a prom photoshoot, and kayaking by a Canadian couple’s home.
The aforementioned prom photoshoot was initially referred to as a “photobomb” by some media outlets, though Maclean’s pointed out the viral photo was actually taken by Trudeau’s own photographer, Adam Scotti.
“This is part of a little side project to document the places we go and the runs we go on,” Scotti wrote on Instagram. “Sometimes it’s just scenic shots, other times, it’s running past an unsuspecting grad group—half clued in, others were more distracted by the ginger with the camera.”
So one wonders about Thursday night’s run in the hot sun, in a quieter part of Toronto, yet a place that is hardly absent of people. What exactly does it mean, if anything?
One thing is for certain, whatever his motivation, with or without his shirt, Trudeau won’t be able to run away from more questions about what happened 18 years ago.
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada